If a customer were to visit your website, would you want them to comment on your site struc­ture?  For most sites, the answer to that ques­tion should be “no.” If they are think­ing consciously about site struc­ture, chances are they are confused by it. Very rarely do users get excited about how well a site is orga­nized (unless they’re in our field). For that reason, many sites use similar hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures; web users are accus­tomed to certain web conven­tions, and when they come across some­thing new, putting in the effort to learn a new system may be too much to ask. You don’t want your users to have to think about where the infor­ma­tion they seek lives. That is why under­stand­ing tradi­tional navi­ga­tion conven­tions and construct­ing an intu­itive site archi­tec­ture should be an easy deci­sion for your those in charge of your website.

Site StructureDon’t make your users over think navi­ga­tion.

Since a website should ideally be dynamic and will frequently be updated with new infor­ma­tion and content (if you’re not updat­ing your website, that’s a whole other issue), it will be valu­able to reassess your site struc­ture frequently. Ask: is my current site struc­ture or section struc­ture getting my users to convert? Are rele­vant paths and work­flows made appar­ent to users? Are users finding the infor­ma­tion that they seek? And the answers to these ques­tions can’t just be thought up – there are useful quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive research methods avail­able to help deter­mine whether your site is perform­ing at top speed.

These research methods and tools can help deter­mine how to struc­ture the site. If you have an exist­ing site, what does your web analyt­ics program tell you about the most visited pages? Are there site sections that users are not navi­gat­ing towards that are crucial for influ­enc­ing conver­sion? Maybe that content belongs on another page or in another site section. What are the top keywords that bring users to your site? Do those queries match the content you provide? Qual­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion gleaned from tools like site surveys (4Q and KISSin­sights are great survey tools) and forums can be very useful in deter­min­ing what discrep­an­cies may exist between site goals and user goals. There are also several user-testing util­i­ties (usertesting.com and feedbackarmy.com both offer reason­ably priced user feed­back tools) that can provide great insight into the on-site user expe­ri­ence. Compare your site goals to your users’ site goals, and deter­mine how you can better get those goals to match.

In our expe­ri­ence, a mixture of ways that users can get to infor­ma­tion is best suited for web usabil­ity. A combi­na­tion of clear hier­ar­chy and active linking is typi­cally a success­ful model. With a clear hier­ar­chy, users are able to navi­gate a site with little effort. Clear orga­ni­za­tion is ampli­fied by commu­ni­cat­ing where users are within the hier­ar­chy, using a device such as bread­crumbs. Also, in order to help move users to your most impor­tant content, use links and calls to action within page content.

The company website is one of the most impor­tant venues for brand­ing. And as users gain more online expe­ri­ence and become more web savvy, they often expect websites to follow certain struc­tural conven­tions. Not follow­ing web design best prac­tices for the right reasons can make you stand out – not follow­ing for the wrong reasons (i.e. lack of resources put towards site) may detract from the trust­wor­thi­ness of your brand and your customers will head for the back button.  Make sure your site struc­ture is a “no brainer;” don’t make users over think it.